Category Archives: Political commentary

Desperately Seeking the Fair Go – blog post

[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]

desperatelysmAustralia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.

Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.

Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.

Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.

Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?

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Brexit, Trump and a Rigged System

Economist Ian McAuley has written a series of articles called Brexit, Trump and the Lucky Countryon John Menadue’s site Pearls and Irritations. The analysis is good as far as it goes, but there are more fundamental factors at work.

The neoliberal program never achieved more than mediocrity and overall it has failed even on its own terms. Worse, it has corrupted government, fractured society and visited destruction upon the Earth. This failure flows from two false premises at the heart of neoliberalism: the libertarian claim that people should be rugged individualists, and the neoclassical claim that free markets usually will automatically optimise an economy.

Behind the votes for Brexit and Trump lies a simple perception: the system is rigged in favour of the rich. That perception is accurate. People may lash out at scapegoats and follow false prophets, but their disgust and alienation are quite justified. Trump promised to break up the cozy club at the top, and many people said Yes.

Two extracts published at Pearls and Irritations, here and here.

Full essay here.

Trump Refracted Through Nineteen Eighty-Four

george-orwell-1

[Published at Independent Australia]

I’m not the only one having thoughts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. My own reminder came through Donald Trump’s flirtation with Russia. Suddenly Russia switches from being the Evil Empire to being a useful ally. And when Trump feels his grip on power might be slipping he’ll pick a fight to distract us. Who will he pick a fight with? Obviously China.

We are in Orwell’s world. There are three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia. We are at war with Eurasia and Eastasia is our ally. No, we are at war with Eastasia and Eurasia is our ally. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

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Secret Takeover by Subversive Extremists: a Conspiracy Story

[Also just published at Independent Australia.]

thatcher_tinaBack in the 1960s authorities were very exercised that cells of violent hippie peacenik leftists were plotting to overthrow the Government and establish an anarchist hippie socialist dictatorship (there were no greenies yet). This would inevitably morph into communism, the dreaded embodiment of all evil.

The conspirators were a very small fringe of a very large but not very coherent movement that wanted more love, less war, less consumerism and healthier living. Oh, and some drugs and weird clothes, or no clothes. There was the odd kidnapping and a few small bombs let off, some of them doing more harm to the conspirators than to the Establishment, but the large anti-war movements did not automatically join the revolution and the whole thing fizzled. The hippies got mortgages, Ronald Reagan was elected, and Big Business resumed gobbling up the world.

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The Greens: Paddling Hard but Missing the Wave

[Just published at Independent Australia]

article-9388-heroDisaffection with old parties and old politics continues to grow, here and abroad. Unlike the US and the UK, however, progressive politics in Australia is hardly progressing. The Greens are the obvious standard-bearer, but so far they are missing the wave. It matters because the destruction of the informed, fair-go society and the sell-out of our sovereignty continue apace.

In the recent election the Greens pulled only 10% of the 23% of primary votes that went to non-major parties in the House. For the Senate, they got 8.7% of around 35% of non-major primary votes.

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Demise of Lib-Lab: an electoral fancy

bleaching-lizard-islandFrom the perspective of 2020 it’s a bit hard to recall just how disconnected from its constituents the political mainstream had become before the 2016 election campaign. No wonder they churned through so many prime ministers.

The readjustment began just as the campaign began, though few saw what was coming. Even the bleaching of a large part of the Great Barrier Reef did not at first get much reaction. True to form, the major parties gave it minimal lip service. It was only as large swaths of the Reef turned brown and ugly over following weeks that widespread concern began to surface. The Government might still have squeaked in, but it had set itself a 10-week-plus campaign.

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